Benefits of High-End Cables
Optimally designed High-End cables can be expensive, so it is important for our customers to understand what benefits these optimized cables can provide. If most high-end cables were compared to inexpensive, but good quality cables (such as those from from Radio Shack) on a single-speaker monophonic system, virtually all humans would find them to be very close. The high-end cables may have slightly better high-frequency clarity due to the use of Litz-wire or pure silver conductors and less lossy dielectric insulations, such as Teflon or air-filled Polyethylene or Teflon. These materials are more expensive.
Significant differences however, will be obvious in stereo. Properly designed high-end cables will generally have lower phase shift at high frequencies, resulting in a more clear, more focused stereo soundstage image. Humans can discern very small phase shifts and frequency modulation when they are in the "sweet-spot" of a two-channel stereo system. The reason that these are more obvious in stereo is that both speakers are required to properly recreate a single sound source. If the signal from one of the two speakers is not in-phase with the other because its contribution is low frequency (no shift in phase) and the other is providing the high-frequency (changing phase) component (such as room echo), then the image of this source will be "fuzzy" and difficult to pinpoint. It is the difference in signal from left and right that humans can discern. If one moves out of the sweet-spot, this difference does not change, only the relative position of the image. The lab at Empirical Audio has measured music bursts above 8 kHz and seen significant phase shifts at these frequencies with inferior speaker cables. Our cables do not exhibit these phase shifts.
Surround-sound makes it possible to place audible cues more easily, because there are more speakers. However, this does not relegate the need for precise imaging. If left-to-right or front-to-back pans are to sound natural, without obvious jerking, a precise image is necessary. High-end cables can provide this precise image, adding to the realness and excitement of surround music and movies. It is possible for the center channel to "disappear" when playing surround program material much in the same way the left and right speakers can disappear on two-channel program material, but precise imaging is a prerequisite for this to happen.
High-end speaker cables will also typically use large gauge conductors or sufficient numbers of Litz-wires to be equivalent to a large gauge, such as 8-10 AWG, reducing the resistance and inductance of those cables. Lower resistance and inductance will generally result in improved dynamics and "slam" depending on the capacity of the amplifier to deliver current when needed and the efficiency of the loudspeakers. This is simply ohms law at work.
Finally it is important to note that having high-quality source, preamp and amplification equipment is critical to getting the most out of high-end cables. Any component can limit the performance of the system and prevent a "live" sound from being achievable. However, properly designed high-end cables can improve, to some extent, the sound of virtually every system. To get the biggest bang for your buck, the best thing to do is try them. You may discover that your $5K system sounds like a $30K system with $2K worth of high-end cables installed. The live sound that we get on our Empirical Audio reference system rivals and even beats systems costing 10X more and it is primarily attributable to our cables!